What's wrong with fed IT? Lack of training

A failure to train in cost estimating, risk management, and technical project management is at the core of a systemic inability to deliver IT projects on budget and on time.

What exactly is the problem with government IT? Why are so many millions of dollars wasted? Why do so many projects fail to see the light of day?

The answer: inadequate training of federal project managers, according to a survey of 104 federal IT leaders conducted by Price Systems, a consulting firm focused on affordability management. Respondents identified a failure of training on a number of fronts: training on risk identification and management, training on initial baseline development, and training on technical project management, according to Government Computer News.

Sixty-seven percent of the execs said training in these areas was nonexistent or they weren't even sure if it was provided. In addition, unrealistic baselines are the cause for almost half of all failed, cancelled or over-budget IT projects. And when there are baselines, projects are troubled by schedule management and cost management.

“If you are not generating solid baselines to begin with, then you are building your project in sand, and it is hard to be successful and move through,” said Larry Reagan, vice president for Price Systems’ government solutions division. “Agencies are not armed with the right tools, training and data to do it successfully.”

Price Systems estimated that the 46 percent of unsuccessful projects cost about $5.5 billion. The number is based on the Government Accountability Office’s estimate that agencies waste about $12 billion a year due to poor planning or performance, Reagan said.

It should be noted, although GCN did not, that the survey is somewhat self-serving as the implication is that agencies should hire price to improve their project management.

Federal project managers also fall down in cost estimating. The survey found agencies fail to provide enough instruction in estimating costs, leading to unrealistic budgets and inevitable cost overruns.

“A lot of programs start without a program manager,” said Bob Young, executive director for Price Systems and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Army for cost and economics. “The money is put in and has no baseline and then is handed off to the project manager. Most of the time, they are told to execute with whatever funds are available. They are put in almost a no-win situation from the beginning.”

Reagan said agencies are making progress, thanks in part to administration guidance. “People understand what they need to do to make themselves successful,” Reagan said. “The Office of Management and Budget has done a good job communicating what needs to be done. But how do they execute? That is the problem.”